Two Days in Hakone, Japan (Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi, Mount Komagatake and Odawara)
Blog Tour: Traveling Back to the Future in Japan
Happy Tuesday everyone! I know it may seem a bit unusual that I am sharing a new blog post on a Tuesday instead of a Monday, but yesterday was Labor Day and I used the full day to relax with my family at the beach. Now that the holiday is over, I am back in action!
After spending my first few days in Tokyo and Kamakura, I am excited to switch gears! Say goodbye to the bright neon lights and dancing robots for a more picturesque and tranquil Hakone (pronounced as Ha Cone Ey). It was in Hakone where I first got to experience traditional Japan and all of the natural beauty the country is known for.
Today, read all about my two days in Hakone and discover everything there is to do and see in this breathtaking area of Japan.
**Please note that this blog post uses affiliate links meaning that if you make a purchase via my affiliate link, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only promote and talk about products and services that I have used and like.
Welcome to Hakone!
The drive from Tokyo to Hakone was around an hour and a half to two hours with the traffic (there is always traffic in Tokyo). We took a private coach to Hakone, but there are train lines that also go there, including Japan’s bullet train called the Shinkansen. You could also rent a car through Skyscanner. (We took the bullet train from Odawara to Hiroshima and from Hiroshima to Kyoto and it was unbelievable how fast we got to each destination considering how far each city was from each other. I will go more into this in my next blog post.)
Hakone is a mountainous town known for its onsen (hot spring) resorts and iconic views of beautiful Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, because I traveled to this region during the summertime, there weren’t any clear views of the volcano. In order for you to get those pristine views of Mount Fuji, it is advised that you travel to Japan in the wintertime and try to see the summit early in the morning or late afternoon. You could also get some clear views during late fall and early spring. On our ride down the volcano, we got lucky and the clouds opened up for us to see the top of Mount Fuji during sunset. It was still pretty hazy, but awesome to see it for a hot second.
Here is everything you could see and do during your two days in Hakone:
Visit Mount Fuji:
Mount Fuji, also known as Fujisan, is 12,388 feet, making it Japan’s highest mountain. This perfectly shaped volcano has been worshiped as a sacred mountain amongst Japanese people. It is a fairly active volcano, which most recently erupted in 1707 and stands on the border between Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefectures. Normally, these two Prefectures argue over where Mount Fuji stands. In addition, this volcano can be seen from Tokyo, Yokohama, on a train ride between Tokyo and Osaka and also near Shin-Fuji Station.
Driving up Mount Fuji was so beautiful and serene. I loved all of the greenery and mountains we were surrounded by! The only eerie thing I learned about on my journey up to Mount Fuji was that we were driving around the famous “Suicide Forest”. Now, I am not trying to sound depressing or morbid, but this forest, called Aokigahara, is so thick with foliage that it is also known as the Sea of Trees. It is estimated that over 100 people a year successfully kill themselves in this haunting forest because it is deep and no one could see them.
Anyway, as we drove around the forest, I honestly was spooked out, not only because the guardrail was very low and our big bus was riding right along the edge of the cliff, but mainly because when you look down into the forest, it is nothing but darkness. I honestly did not see one ray of sunlight inside of those sea of trees.
On a happier note, Mount Fuji is a great place to hike and bike between the months of July and August. There are also ski slopes, shrines and temples. It is the perfect place to savor amazing Japanese nature and culture.
During our time at Mount Fuji, we stopped at Subaru Line 5th Station. This station is approximately the halfway point of the Yoshida Trail, which leads from Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine at the mountain’s base to the summit of Mount Fuji. Subaru Line 5th Station also offers parking lots, restaurants, shops and is the last chance for climbers to stock up on supplies at a decent price before they head higher up the mountain. Prices for supplies such as hiking sticks, snacks, bottles of water and oxygen increase as you climb higher.
While we were at Subaru Line 5th Station, the visibility was very low, so we were not able to see the summit as well as the popular Fuji Five Lakes, Fujiyoshida City and Lake Yamanaka. You could, however, walk around the Komitake Shrine, write a prayer card and even grab a snack!
Experience a Traditional Japanese Ryokan:
One of the best experiences one could get in Japan is staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan. These traditional hotels feature tatami-matted rooms, where you sleep on a mattress on the floor; sliding paper doors; communal baths (onsen springs) and restaurants where you sit on a soft pillow and eat delicious Japanese cuisine on the floor. During your stay in a traditional ryokan, it is required that you take your shoes off and walk around in a yukata, which is a light kimono.
The ryokan that my group and I stayed in was called Hakkeien, located in Izunokuni in Shizuoka Prefecture. When we first arrived, we took our shoes off and chose our yukata (I chose a yellow and pink floral yukata). After checking in, we went up to our room, enjoyed a cup of green tea and then the maids came in and cleared everything out and set up our mattresses. There were five of us staying in a room, so it was a little crowded, but sleeping in a traditional ryokan was priceless! Everything about Hakkeien was warm and welcoming. Even our bathroom was comfortable (the toilet was heated)!
Dinner that evening was served on Kaiseki Ryori, which means “Haute Cuisine”. Like I mention above, dinner was served on the floor and friendly Japanese women and men made everything fresh for us. We were served shrimp tempura, miso soup, rice, seaweed, tofu, fresh vegetables, some meat and seafood. Everything was amazing!
Due to the volcanic nature of the Hakone region, there are hundreds of onsen springs with distinctive minerals and chemicals for people to relax and enjoy. The onsen springs have healing qualities that leave everyone feeling healthy, rejuvenated, refreshed and clean. Luckily, Hakkeien had a great onsen to relax in the evening.
When you visit an onsen spring, you will notice that the bathing area is separated by gender. All guests are expected to wash and rinse themselves thoroughly before entering the spring. The bathing stations will provide their own shampoo, conditioner, body washes, soaps, lotions and oils. They are all great products!
After entering the onsen spring, you are only allowed to wear your birthday suit (aka you have to go in naked). Guests are generally allowed to bring a small towel that you could use to cover yourself as you enter and exit the springs. While you are in the springs, you could wrap the towel around your head like I did. It is against the rules to wear bathing suits, dip your towel in the water and not wash before entering the onsen springs as it is often considered unclean. As a sign of respect, it is also required to cover all tattoos before entering the spring.
I will admit that this was the first time I ever experienced a traditional Japanese onsen and I definitely gained a whole new level of confidence from it, especially after having to expose my body to a bunch of strangers. It was overall an amazing and relaxing experience though!
I enjoyed the onsen spring at night. Since the bathing area was located on the rooftop of the ryokan, I was able to enjoy the night sky and some city lights. During the day, you could get wonderful mountain views and if you’re lucky, even spot Mount Fuji! During my time in the onsen, it also started to rain. A lot of people left because of the rain, but I actually enjoyed it as I was able to relax by myself.
In addition, Hakkeien also has an amazing Japanese buffet breakfast every morning. You could get everything from udon to fish cakes and French toast to fresh fruit. You could also rent out a room and do karaoke.
Prolong Your Life at Owakudani:
Mount Fuji isn’t the only volcano located in the Hakone area. During your time in Japan, it is also a must to visit Mount Hakone. One of the many places that you cannot miss at Mount Hakone is Owakudani. This active volcano zone will make you feel like you’re in Mars! There are sulfurous fumes, hot springs and wonderful views (of course on a clear day).
One thing you cannot miss while you visit Owakudani is savoring a black egg. Cooked in naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur, you can prolong your life by seven years when you eat this boiled egg. Of course, I ate one!!! There was also a Hello Kitty statue of a black egg. It was so cute! (For those of you who do not know me, I LOVE Hello Kitty!)
In addition to visiting Owakudani, you could hike several different trails where you can catch some pretty amazing views of Lake Ashinoko (Lake Ashi), Mount Kamiyama and Mount Komagatake. Ps. You could also meet some friendly locals such as this cute Corgi!
Take in the Views at Mount Komagatake:
Mount Komagatake is a 4452-foot lava dome that was created by a volcanic eruption 40,000 years ago. What is cool is that you could reach the top of Mount Komagatake in only seven minutes by taking a ropeway to the top from Lake Ashi.
Before we got on the ropeway, it was around 90-something degrees Fahrenheit and visibility was pretty clear. As we ascended into a sea of clouds, the temperature dropped to the low 60s and visibility was barely present. After we got off the ropeway, the wind was so forceful. I seriously thought I was going to blow away!
It was such a cool experience wandering the stone trails of Mount Komagatake. Even though it was very cloudy, the views were poetic. It reminded me of the day I explored the Pyrenees Mountains in Northern Spain.
On a clear day, the views from Mount Komagatake are breathtaking! You can spot Mount Fuji, the nearby mountains, Lake Ashi, Sagami Bay and Odawara.
As you make your way around, you will spot a shrine. Near the shrine, there is a rock with a sacred straw rope called “Bakou-seki”, meaning that God came down on the rock with his white horse. Many other rocks around the shrine have been used for various rituals. It is such an amazing place!
After we came back down from the ropeway, there was a visitor’s center that included ramen cafés, teriyaki restaurants, ice cream and crepe stands, bars, souvenir shops and even a petting zoo that housed an anaconda! I enjoyed a delicious ramen meal with Japanese fried chicken. Afterwards, my friends and I relaxed by the lake.
Feel at Peace on Lake Ashinoko (also known as Lake Ashi):
Lake Ashi, which is also known as the lake of reeds, was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption over 3,000 years ago. Today, this beautiful and scenic lake is the primary symbol of Hakone. It is on this glistening lake where you could also capture views of Mount Fuji on a clear day.
During our time at Lake Ashi, we took a sightseeing tour across the lake where we were able to catch some beautiful views of Japanese nature. Hakone Sightseeing Boats and Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats are the two most popular Lake Ashi touring companies.
As we made our way around the lake, we spotted the famous Hakone Shrine! It was a MUST to stop at this shrine and not just for the ‘gram… Standing at the foot of Mount Hakone and only a five-minute walk along the lake’s shores are the beautiful shrine buildings and torii gates hidden in a beautifully dense forest. As you make your way through the forest, you will eventually spot the iconic torii gate standing prominently in the lake.
There is also a path that leads from the famous torii gate up a series of stairs with beautiful lanterns to the main building of the shrine, which sits peacefully among the tall trees. It is a beautiful area to take in all of Japan’s nature!
Before we got on the Shinkansen to head to Hiroshima, we stopped and explored the city of Odawara that is located in Kanagawa Prefecture.
See How Japanese Fish Cakes are made at Suzuhiro Kamakobo Museum:
Kamaboko is a steamed fish loaf that is a popular staple in Odawara, Japan. Also known as fish cake, this delicacy is also part of traditional Japanese New Year traditions. In December, people from all over the country will order kamaboko from Odawara. For the New Year, most Japanese people will order the white and pink ones specifically since white and red (which is similar to pink) are symbols for a fresh start in Japan.
The Suzuhiro Kamakobo Museum is where you could see how fish cakes are made and even participate in a class. Since the class was in Japanese, we mainly enjoyed walking around and witnessing how the fish cakes are made.
Experience Royalty at Odawara Castle:
Odawara Castle was built in the mid 15th century and fell into Hojo Clan rule. This Clan was one of the most powerful during the Warring States Era, who used it as a base to control the region around modern day Tokyo. In the late 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi attacked the Castle, defeating the Hojo Clan and reuniting Japan.
In 1703, Odawara Castle was destroyed by an earthquake, but was quickly rebuilt. It is currently the closest castle to the capital city of Tokyo. As you walk through the inside of Odawara Castle, you will find exhibits on the history of the Castle along with some cool armor and swords. When you eventually reach the fourth floor, you can catch beautiful views of the surrounding area.
Also located on the Castle grounds is a monkey exhibit. Japanese monkeys, also known as macaque, have red faces. They are also known as snow monkeys because they live in areas where snow covers the ground for months each year. A cool fact is that there is no other nonhuman primate that lives this north in the world. If you visit Japan in the winter, you can catch these little guys relaxing and meditating in an onsen spring!
Click here to discover everything else you could see and do in and around Hakone and Odawara.
I hope you all enjoyed reading about my time relaxing and experiencing the best of Japanese culture in Hakone. If you have any questions about time in Hakone or my trip to Japan in general, please feel free to email me at TAYLORL.DEER@gmail.com, contact me via social media or leave a comment below.
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